Best thing to happen in North Wales women’s football for a long time – a review of the first Genero Adran North League season

All hail the 2021-22 Genero Adran North champions – Llandudno. Picture: NIK MESNEY/FAW

Life can have its very lucky moments. Those all-too-often rare occasions where things could not work out better if you tried.

That was the case on the final full day of the first-ever Genero Adran North League season.

In a true Roy of the Rovers (or maybe in this case Rosie of the Rovers) scenario, the top two clubs ended up playing each other with the title up for grabs.

Leaders Llandudno needed just a point to finish up as champions, while second-place Wrexham knew only a win would clinch them the premier position.

In the end it was mighty close. Wrexham, on a run of 10 straight wins, were much the better team in the first half and should have led by more than 2-1 at the break.

Maybe the Reds thought the game was already won, as they were not the same force after the restart and Llandudno took over to claim the title in style with a 3-2 victory, New Zealander Indie Hassall grabbing a match-sealing second-half double.

Tudno had rounded off the campaign with eight consecutive wins and were deserved champions as they had the most points – simple as.

FINAL TABLE

It was a great effort from Wrexham, though, as well as the third and fourth-placed clubs, Bethel and Connah’s Quay Nomads, who had been involved in the title race themselves until the final couple of weeks.

The tier 2 Genero Adran North has enjoyed a great first season.

The idea of creating a pyramid for women’s football in Wales was an excellent one. From a northern point of view, it has provided a tier 2 for the more ambitious clubs and a third-tier North Wales League catering for those looking for extra time to build.

In an ideal world, Llandudno would have entered a play-off against the equivalent Adran South winners for the right to be in the tier 1 Adran Premier next season.

However, Tudno did not apply for promotion and neither did Wrexham.

Connah’s Quay did, but needed a top-two finish to qualify for the play-off and they didn’t quite get there.

The current situation might be for the best.

Llandudno know only too well the pains of what being in a national league dominated by South Wales clubs can bring.

The Maesdu Park side spent eight seasons in the Welsh Premier Women’s League and endured endless trips down south year after year, relying on the loyalty and dedication of unpaid players, some of whom had jobs, others who were mothers making big sacrifices to serve their club.

Llandudno more than held their own, but in the end the candle burned out and they resigned in December 2019.

Suddenly, a league which had housed five North Wales clubs at different stages over its first eight seasons of being fully national now had none.

There was little or no prospect of that changing, so the Adran North came along at just the right time – to breathe new life into North Wales women’s football.

FAW head of female football Lowri Roberts and her assistants did an awful lot of work to devise and implement fresh plans to revive the women’s game – and it is working.

The time is not right for a North Wales club to take the plunge and join the Adran Premier just yet, perhaps a couple more seasons of making the Adran North an even better league might be the best way – for now.

There would need to be much more financial incentive available to attract fresh northern interest in the national level.

Having said that, Wrexham certainly have some potential in that area with their new Hollywood owners inspiring a major push for promotion back to the Football League.

Rosie Hughes has been phenomenal for Wrexham this season. Picture: GEMMA THOMAS PHOTOGRAPHY/WREXHAM AFC

Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney have expressed their admiration for the women’s team this season, so who knows, perhaps more resources could be found to vault the girls forward?

A return to the Football League could only help the coffers and, let’s face it, a Wrexham team in the top women’s league in Wales would be a great fit.

As for Connah’s Quay Nomads, the men’s fortunes have gone backwards this season after back-to-back title wins in 2019-20 and 2020-21 had ended the Cymru Premier stranglehold of The New Saints.

An 18-point deduction has consigned the Deesiders to the bottom half of the CPL and guarantees them missing out on a lucrative qualification for Europe.

Had the Nomads ladies reached the play-off and earned a place in the Adran Premier, how would the club have been fixed financially to accept promotion?

Just because a women’s team might be affiliated to a club which is well-off due to the successes of its men’s side doesn’t mean the ladies are automatically cashing in.

Some women’s teams have to be self-sufficient. Those who claim they know all that goes on within local football are often full of the brown stuff – especially when it comes to debating the subject of money.

What Wrexham and Nomads most certainly are doing is building good women’s teams and they look capable of being in this for the long haul.

Here’s a review of how the eight teams which competed in the inaugural 2021-22 Genero Adran North season fared……

GENERO ADRAN NORTH TEAM-BY-TEAM ASSESSMENT 2021-22

AIRBUS UK BROUGHTON

Tegan Hewitt (all maroon)

Finishing next-to-bottom with only one other win apart from two over basement side Denbigh Town does not represent the best of debut Adran North seasons for the Wingmakers.

It should be taken into account they lost arguably their best striker, Becky Lees, to Chester last summer and that influential skipper Abby Williams missed most of the campaign through injury.

Their biggest success story was undoubtedly young talent Tegan Hewitt, who netted 20 goals in a struggling side.

BETHEL

Katie Midwinter (light blue) stood out for Bethel

Had it not been for three straight losses in January, Bethel’s first season in tier 2 would have been close to perfection.

The maroon and blacks finished the campaign with six successive wins to claim a superb third place.

At the end of November, Bethel had 13 points from a possible 15, but then going without a league game for eight weeks disrupted their rhythm.

Their first fixture of 2022 brought a shock 6-2 defeat at Wrexham, who they had whipped 8-3 at Cae Seilo earlier in the season.

A feisty 1-0 defeat at Pwllheli had the Caernarfon-area villagers rocking, but they won every game from that point.

Ffion Wyn Williams, Fflur Williams, Mari Gibbard and Katie Midwinter all scored heavily at different stages.

Injuries and absences affected things at times, but the closing weeks saw the welcome return of a few familiar faces.

CONNAH’S QUAY NOMADS

Francesca Scott burst to prominence for Nomads

Back in 2019-20, the new Connah’s Quay Nomads side made a great impact in not just finishing runners-up in North Wales League Division Two, but also reaching the Welsh Cup semi-finals.

Summer 2021 necessitated almost a total rebuild of the squad by new managers Jordan Parry and Stephen Boyes – and some of the signings proved magnificent.

Central midfielder Kirstie Kural made a popular return to North Wales 11-a-side football and scored a phenomenal 25 goals.

Flying winger Francesca Scott arrived from The New Saints and was one of the finds of the season.

The likes of winger Tamara Hamer, goalkeeper Charlie Bolland and defender Chelsea Bloor were outstanding, while established players such as Lani Bouckley and Shannon Hobbs totally proved their worth.

Nomads were right up there with the best, but losing twice to both Llandudno and Bethel in the league – although they beat both in cups – proved costly.

DENBIGH TOWN

Ellen Lawson (furthest left)

Forget their heavy losses and the fact they did not manage to pick up a point and let’s praise Denbigh for fulfilling all of their fixtures and keeping going so gamely during a difficult season.

With their good past record in the North Wales League, Town were more than worthy of a place in the Adran North, but unfortunately a turbulent pre-season and the loss of numerous players ended up affecting them badly.

They didn’t lose every game heavily. Denbigh went down just 2-1 at home to Llanfair United, pushed Airbus hard twice and were level with Pwllheli for a long time before conceding some late goals.

And Town did get a win in the North Wales Coast Challenge Cup, beating Trearddur Bay 2-0.

Manager Ellen Lawson and her team are a credit to the league.

LLANDUDNO

Sarah Colville (centre) with assistants Paul Roberts (left) and Tref Jones

Worthy champions and popular ones too.

There was plenty of admiration for the way Llandudno battled for so long in the Welsh Premier flying the flag for North Wales and lots of sympathy when they eventually had to resign and initially struggled to get back into competitive football.

Long-serving sisters and managers/coaches Sarah and Claire Colville rebuilt in the summer and were able to retain some of the previous squad, with the likes of captain Sofie Owen and midfielder Stacey Tradewell such important figures over the season.

The Colvilles pulled a lot of rabbits out of hats.

How about Sara Williams? Not even a regular goalkeeper but a massive success over the season, conceding the least goals in the league (18).

Young striker Ella Jones hit the ground running in her first full season in senior football – 22 goals in just 11 games before injury sadly ended her campaign early, but she had made her mark!

When the chief source of goals had gone, was there a crisis? Not a bit of it.

Maddie Williams, who had been out of the game for a few years before helping reform Llanfairfechan’s recreational team, started to score for fun in Llandudno colours, and has netted 27 times so far in 2021-22.

Llandudno players celebrate Indie Hassall’s equaliser against Wrexham. Pic by Nik Mesney/FAW

Rebecca Jarvis-Evans returned to the club and was colossal in defence, while teenager Madison Williams and the versatile Jasmin Dutton have looked every bit the Wales internationals they are.

Ffion Owen and Ceri Slaney, both much-decorated players with previous clubs, came to Maesdu Park and brought goals and class to the side.

And then there was Sioned Phillips and Indie Hassall, the former Llanberis pair, who both shone for Tudno. Indie wrote herself into club folklore with those two title-clinching goals against Wrexham.

The likes of Jess Jones, Maisy Johnson, Hannah Smith, Samantha Jarvis-Evans and a few others all showed their worth at different times.

And Llandudno are still in two cups, so could yet end the season with a treble. But for sure they already have the one they most wanted under lock and key.

LLANFAIR UNITED

Gemma Jones. Picture: IAN FRANCIS

Although their form picked up over the second half of the campaign, it was an average sixth-place finish for the former North Wales League champions (albeit in a very shortened season).

Losing key player Mary Griffiths to the joys of motherhood certainly reduced the squad’s strength, but a few good prospects came to the fore such as Dotty Evans and Tonicha Lloyd.

Star striker Gemma Jones was outstanding again, hitting 14 goals for a team she is always so consistent for.

PWLLHELI

Pwllheli captain Magi Hughes (red and white) in action against Airbus. Picture: johnsimages – @sunkendream5

One of the teams of the season for me.

Despite having a small squad, these girls produced some magnificent performances over the campaign.

Undoubtedly their best form came in the Welsh Cup, where they knocked out CPD Y Rhyl 1879 and Llandudno before losing just 2-0 away to mighty Swansea City in the quarter finals, with Elena Julio typically magnificent in goal.

And they also did well in the Adran Trophy, where they defeated Wrexham and then made Cardiff City FC Women work really hard for a 3-0 win at The Rec.

Pwllheli had some magic moments in the league too, such as their 1-0 home win over Bethel, a double against Airbus – and they played really well in away losses to Llandudno and Bethel.

Lois Thomas had another superb season, netting 14 times, while Magi Hughes was tremendous as new captain and in defence Sian Moore and Lowri Hughes were majestic.

Katie Bowe also produced some signs of her best play, producing some wonderful goals and free kicks, and youngsters like Siona Hughes and Charley Davies showed much promise.

Things did not always go Pwllheli’s way on or off the field, but they got on with the job and won plenty of admirers along the way.

Fifth place is a really good achievement first up.

WREXHAM

Amber Lightfoot puts Wrexham 1-0 up at Llandudno. Pic by Nik Mesney/FAW

A mixed start to the season, where they lost two of their first three league games, probably cost them the title.

When Steve Dale took over as manager three months in, the Reds became a real force, winning 10 on the bounce in the league before narrowly losing that title decider to Llandudno.

It’s been a fantastic season for the Wrexham female section as a whole.

Their dazzling youngsters won the Under-19 League title and of course the women were tier 2 runners-up.

The main headline-maker has been goal machine Rosie Hughes, 46 goals in all competitions and 36 in the league. All in just 20 games.

She has always been a great goalscorer, but this season was something else.

It certainly helped having fast, creative players around her, but Rosie has been a true class act and without a doubt is my Adran North, North Wales and Adran Leagues player of the season too.

Of course, the decisions for those awards will be made by someone else.

So many other players impressed in a Wrexham shirt. Young Amber Lightfoot was a sensation in attack, as well as Rebecca Pritchard and Lili Jones.

Also great to see former Rhyl FC player and set-piece specialist Tonicha (TJ) Dickens shining so brightly for her new team.

Wrexham can go on from here and become a major force. It would be amazing to see them competing with the Swansea’s and Cardiff’s in the not-too-distant future.

They will need to strengthen, but the basis for a fine side is already there.

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